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Shelby's Folly: Jack Dempsey, Doc Kearns, and the Shakedown of a Montana Boomtown Paperback – July 1, 2012


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 240 pages
  • Publisher: Bison Books; Reprint edition (July 1, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 080324004X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0803240049
  • Product Dimensions: 8.4 x 5.3 x 0.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 10.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,931,123 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Review

"A simply marvellous book by author Jason Kelly detailing the tale of a little-known Montana mining town trying to break into the sporting world big leagues by promoting a heavyweight championship fight featuring the immortal Jack Dempsey." USA Boxing News. "Enjoyable...Mr. Kelly writes sympathetically, not mockingly, of Shelby, and he has a proper appreciation for the brazen roguery of Doc Kearns, whose greed and manipulativeness made the fight possible and doomed Shelby's self-promotional hopes." Bill Kauffman, Wall Street Journal. "Shelby's Folly is such fun to read. Kelly builds toward the fight with insight into the backgrounds and personalities of Dempsey and Kearns, Gibbons, the Shelby town leaders, and the web of fight arrangers and their negotiations." Ken Robison, Montana, The Magazine of Western History. "Jason Kelly's Shelby's Folly is a highly entertaining slice of Am"Mr. Kelly, in his second book, tells this story in a highly entertaining fashion with great detail... The book is a fine read, even for those who know the story well." David Crisp, Billings Outpost. "[Shelby's Folly is] a great story of a town prostituting itself to sport and one that has been repeated many times since." D. R. Danbom, Time Out for Entertainment.

About the Author

Jason Kelly is an associate editor of the University of Chicago Magazine. He is the author of Mr. Notre Dame: The Life and Legend of Edward “Moose” Krause.

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Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Richard A. Stull on June 11, 2010
Format: Hardcover
Kelly, Jason. Shelby's Folly: Jack Dempsey, Doc Kearns, and the Shakedown of a Montana Boomtown, by. Hardback: 214 pages. University of Nebraska Press (2010) ISBN-978-08032-2655

It's Just Business

Jason Kelly's Shelby's Folly is a highly entertaining slice of American history using Jack Dempsey's July 4, 1922, heavyweight title fight versus Tommy Gibbons as a backdrop for brazen American optimism, small town politics, and snake oil salesmanship. The real protagonists in this story are the small boom-and-bust town of Shelby , Montana , and Dempsey's manager, charismatic con man Doc Kearns. Shelby 's mayor, "Body" Johnson, lets the news media know that Shelby, the pretender to the title of " Tulsa of the West," is out to become the center of the American sports world. Though initially it was a publicity stunt, private citizens and business interests become enamored of the opportunity to host the fight, despite, as Kelly writes, "having no arena, no transportation, infrastructure, no restaurants, and no hotel rooms to accommodate even a fraction of the crowd."

Enter Dempsey's manager , Doc Kearns. Kearns was a former Alaskan adventurer, boxer, baseball player, taxi driver, bartender, Barbary Coast carouser, fancy dressing, champagne-drinking, fast-talking, and womanizing manager of the heavyweight champion. "Every day was New Year's eve," as one notable sportswriter referred to Kearns . He put the "ooze in schmooze," according to Kelly. His rise to the top of the fight game is a classic "only in America" story, not unlike another boxing promoter half a century later by the name of Don King. Kearns gets varied interests in the town to pony up $100,000 as the first installment on a guaranteed total of $300,000 for the privilege of hosting the fight.
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Reid on March 13, 2010
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Kelly takes us to 1923 and the American West in his wonderful book. Through these real life characters, so colorful, and a story bordering on the absurd, Kelly creates such a vivid picture that it reads like a movie in your mind. Shelby's Folly is a wonderful piece of Americana.
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By Pugwash on March 16, 2013
Format: Hardcover
Jack Dempsey was one of the most recognizable celebrities of the Roaring 20's. His celebrity status was equal to Babe Ruth. Football was yet to become a mainstream professional sport, and pro basketball was not in existence. Boxers were at the top of athlete hero worship, and Dempsey was the heavyweight champion. The celebrity capital of such an athlete was enormous, and Dempsey had crafted a reputation for ferocity unknown since the days of John L Sullivan. His ring persona, and his pulverizing punches bought huge crowds to his fights.

His promoter, Doc Kearns was part con-man, and may have been the original party animal. His roguish charm helped him sell almost promotion that struck his fancy, and with Jack Dempsey lined up in his stable, the ante was massive.

Shelby, Montana was a small western outpost in the middle of an oil bubble. It's civic leadership felt that a heavyweight title promotion would bring the town into public consciousness and create a boom that would make its inhabitants wealthy. With that in mind, they brought in Doc Kearns to negotiate a fight against a skilled, veteran fighter named Tommy Gibbons. Kearns negotiated a $300,000 guarantee for Dempsey, and the city set about building a 40,000 seat stadium to host the fight. For 1923, the stadium was quite modern.

The fight was in financial trouble from the start, and Kearns threatened to pull his fighter from the card several times. If Kearns vs the Civic leadership of Shelby was a fight, Kearns ruthless guile against Shelby's innocence would have made Kearns a prohibitive betting favorite.

The promotion itself was a disaster. Few of the non-natives of Shelby traveled to see the fight, and ticket sales never really materialized.
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